The heartworm looks like a long white worm and lives in a dog's heart. It can also live in the blood vessels near the heart and lungs.
• First affect the lungs
• Then enter the heart and slow down the oxygen flow to other organs
• First affect the heart--enlarging it, causing long-term damage
• The liver and kidneys may also get damaged
Most heartworms are easily preventable. They can be fatal if not treated. Even with treatment heartworms can cause serious damage and leave permanent effects. It is best for your pet to give him his preventative every month on schedule and minimize the risks of this terrible disease.
Mosquitoes spread heartworms.
When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it ingests immature heartworms, which mature inside the mosquito. When that same mosquito bites your dog, your dog will get infected.
A lot of damage can occur before you notice any signs. These signs include:
• Cough, sometimes bloody
• Loss of appetite
• Low energy
If the disease has reached a critical stage, signs include:
• Difficulty breathing
At this point, damage to major organs is severe, treatment is difficult, and the chance of full recovery is low.
To diagnose your dog with heartworms, your veterinarian will perform the following:
• Blood tests: The amount of heartworms that are in the blood show how advanced the disease is
• Ultrasound or Echo of the heart: to check the heart's condition
• Chest x-rays: to check the lung's condition
Based on this information, and your dog's medical history, your veterinarian will stage your dog’s disease.
If you catch heartworms early enough, there is a great chance for treatment to be successful.
Adult Heartworms: In most cases your dog will receive 2 doses of Immiticide while hospitalized. These injections can be painful and are given in your dog's lower back muscles. There is a 30% chance of reaction at the injection site and pain medication is prescribed.
Home rest: it is crucial that your dog rests for 14 days to allow the adult worms to die, disintegrate, and absorb into the dog's body. Any excitement can disrupt this, and lead to complications possibly as severe as sudden heart failure and death. After your pet has a recheck exam he must still have only limited activity for another 30 days to prevent lung damage from the decomposing worms.
Baby Heartworms: Heartworm preventives will kill microfilaria injected by a mosquito bite but not older baby heartworms. In most cases, your veterinarian will admit your dog to the hospital for observation, and give a medication to kill the baby heartworms and prevent a reaction. Then they’ll do another blood test to make sure the heartworms are gone two weeks later, and start your pet on preventative.
If your dog had heartworms and was treated, it can get the disease again if you are not careful to give him his preventive each month.
Most veterinarians recommend:
• Monthly heartworm-prevention medication beginning at 8 weeks of age
• Heartworm tests annually beginning at 1 year of age
If you catch the heartworms early, there is an excellent prognosis. Life-threatening complications may arise from both the disease and the treatment, depending on the number of worms and the stage of infection.